by Nicci French
At the heart of this mystery are two kidnappings separated by decades. The first involved a five-year-old girl who vanished without a trace from a sidewalk. The second is a fresh case of a little boy waiting at school for his mother to pick him up. She’s late and he decides to go home, hoping to meet her on the way. He, too, vanishes without a clue.
The police have nothing to move forward with: no witnesses, no evidence and no suspects. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Malcolm Karlsson is clutching at straws to even link the two cases.
Neither case has anything to do with psychoanalyst Frieda Klein, the intriguing main character of Blue Monday and the series that follows.
Frieda spends her days listening to clients tell her the stories of their lives. She tutors her rebellious teenage niece Chloe in chemistry when the girl says she wants to be a doctor, and tries to protect Chloe from her father’s disinterest and her mother’s boozy immaturity.
She lives alone in a narrow house in a cobblestoned mews. She rarely admits visitors. Nights, when she can’t sleep, which happens often, she walks the streets of London, finding the hidden historical markers and unmarked graves of famous people and following the paths of streams and rivers now covered over as they flow to the Thames.
Frieda is formidably polite, with a paradoxical ability to be both intimidating and comforting. People want to tell her their secrets and often leave her presence feeling absolved.
What drives her to the police is a baffling client (Alan Dekker), whom she is treating for anxiety and depression. He was adopted after being found as a baby wrapped in a towel in a park. He repeatedly discusses dreams that focus on the fantasy that he has a son of his own (he and his wife have been unable to conceive). The dreams are vivid, detailed depictions of Alan spending time in ordinary life with this beloved child. Then he brings Frieda a photograph of himself as a child: he is the spitting image of the kidnapped little boy.
Shaken by the possibility that Alan’s “dreams” might be much more than fantasies, Frieda breaks patient-doctor confidentiality and goes to the police.
The result is a fresh and fascinating mystery that comes to an unexpected resolution through a unique investigative process. Frieda’s intense power of observation, her understanding of human nature and how the brain works and her intuitive ability to make links and find patterns clash with the police investigators’ need for court-worthy, conviction-nailing physical evidence.
It’s impossible to say more without moving into spoiler territory.
Frieda is a restrained character, a mystery on her own, which makes this a powerful series as well as fascinating individual books. Her own family — a noted psychiatrist grandfather, a father who died when she was 15 and an antagonistic brother — hover like ghosts in the background.
The secondary characters are equally fascinating: Josef, a Ukranian immigrant, who survives doing building work; Reuben, Frieda’s mentor and friend, who is having a mid-life breakdown since his wife left him; Sandy, the lover who challenges Frieda’s ability to trust; and Karlsson, who lost his wife and much of his access to children due to his attachment to work.
Each character evolves in successive books, so it’s wise to read the books in order. No matter how it seems at the end of the book, loose ends eddy and ripple into the mysteries that follow in the series.
These are not flawless books. The presentation of the back story about the earliest kidnapping is awkward. Frieda herself isn’t introduced for pages, which begs a reader’s patience. The descriptions of the kidnappings sound as if they are written by a different person than the sections dealing with Frieda. (This is possible given that “Nicci French” is the pseudonym for the husband and wife writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.)
At times there is a dreamy, fairy tale quality to these stories. Frieda moves from dealing with a police force grappling with budget constraints and management consultants restructuring the department to solving mysteries based on the slenderest of triggers as in Waiting for Wednesday. Even so, these are fresh and fascinating mysteries.
The other books in the series in story order are:
- Tuesday’s Gone (2013). Frieda is asked by DCI Karlsson for help in uncovering uncovering the identity of a naked corpse. The dead man was discovered when a London social worker finds her psychotic client serving tea to the corpse. The police are faced with no crime scene, a corpse that has been washed of all evidence and the only person involved is so mentally disturbed she is unable to communicate in a way the police can understand.
- Waiting for Wednesday (2013). When Ruth Lennox, mother of three, is found dead in a pool of her own blood, DCI Karlsson asks Frieda to weigh in on the case.
- Thursday’s Child (2014). A former classmate’s plea for help leads Frieda into a dark incident in her own past. The classmate’s daughter insists she was raped in her own bedroom while her mother was downstairs.
- Friday on my Mind (2015). The police are certain they have an ID on the bloated corpse that turned up in the River Thames: it’s wearing a hospital band with the name “Dr. F. Klein.” But Frieda is very much alive and quickly becomes the prime suspect.
- Saturday Requiem (2016). Hannah Docherty has been incarcerated in a secure hospital for the past 13 years for the brutal murders of her family. Frieda is asked to do an assessment of her and finds a tragic, aged-before-her-time figure. She begins to wonder if Hannah isn’t as much a victim as her family.
The Author: Nicci French
Nicci French is what English husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French call themselves when they write together. They have written 20 psychological thrillers together.
Gerrard was educated at Oxford and Sheffield universities. She has taught literature in Los Angeles and London. She founded a women ‘s magazine and later was a freelance journalist. While working as an editor for the New Statesman, she met French. She is the author of eight solo books, including Missing Persons and The Twilight Hour.
French also studied English literature at Oxford University, although the couple never met during their time there. He was a weekly columnist for the New Statesman from 1987 to 2000. The latest of his three solo novels is Start from Here, published in 2004. He has written biographies of Patrick Hamilton, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda.